Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season saw more exciting finishes and statement victories. The Chiefs bounced back with a huge win over the Eagles, while the Bills shut out the Texans. The Colts finally got their first win of the season, and the Cowboys’ offense handled the Panthers’ great defense, scoring 36 points in a victory.
The Giants upset the Saints in overtime with a pair of Saquon Barkley touchdowns, and the Jets held on in an OT win of their own, beating the Titans. Zach Wilson earned his first win in the NFL. Another rookie QB — Justin Fields — got the Bears back to .500 on the season. Washington pulled off a big comeback in the fourth quarter against the Falcons, and the Browns held the Vikings to seven points to move to 3-1.
In the late games, the Cardinals defeated the Rams to become the only 4-0 team in the league. The Packers, Ravens and Seahawks also won. And in Tom Brady‘s much-anticipated return to New England, the Bucs eked out a narrow win.
Our NFL Nation reporters react to it all with the major takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
What to know: In his return to Foxborough, Massachusetts — which became a solo mission with the absence of injured tight end Rob Gronkowski — quarterback Tom Brady was victorious and broke Drew Brees’ career-passing-yards mark in the process. But the offense struggled in the red zone, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, while the defense became even more short-handed. That unit lost its lone remaining starting cornerback, Carlton Davis, to a quad injury; safety Antoine Winfield Jr. left the game with a concussion and did not return (he is now in the concussion protocol); and the defense struggled against QB Mac Jones and the Patriots’ no-huddle offense. However, the defense made enough plays on the final drive to force a 56-yard field goal attempt that hit the left upright for Nick Folk. — Jenna Laine
Can anybody else play cornerback? The Bucs are now down three starting cornerbacks and have the league’s best rushing defense — inviting teams to pass, pass, pass. Richard Sherman can’t cover everyone, and they already pulled up two guys from the practice squad in Rashard Robinson and Pierre Desir. With no clear timetable for Sean Murphy-Bunting‘s return and Jamel Dean still unable to push off on his ailing knee, things could get rough. — Laine
Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, same as last week. Although in addition to the secondary’s injuries and struggles, the Bucs’ linebackers have struggled for two straight weeks. To make matters worse: They’re now struggling in the red zone on offense, which was practically automatic at the beginning of the season.
Next game: vs. Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Patriots lost in Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough, but quarterback Mac Jones rose to the occasion in an electric environment against Brady, as he didn’t wilt under the prime-time spotlight. He played with poise, and other than his lone interception, which came when the Buccaneers had a free rusher that seemed to speed him up, his decision-making and accuracy were impressive. Jones completed 19 straight passes at one point. With Jones doing his part on offense, and the defense and special teams picking up their performances, the Patriots played their best complementary game of the season. — Mike Reiss
Should Bill Belichick have tried to get closer before attempting a 56-yard field goal? Nick Folk had made 36 field goals in a row, but his longest attempt in the streak was from 51, so putting him out there from 56 was testing the limits. It was fourth-and-3 from the 37-yard line, so it was a borderline call for Belichick. According to ESPN’s win probability metrics, the field goal was the correct decision — with a 42.2% win probability. The win probability of going for it was 34.7%. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 5.2, up from 4. The defense played arguably its best game of the season, and when that happens, it makes life easier on an offense still finding its way with a rookie quarterback.
Next game: at Texans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: This is why quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanted wide receiver Randall Cobb back. For third down. For conversions. The first four times Rodgers went to Cobb on third down, they converted for first downs. He had third-down-conversion catches of 8 and 12 yards on the drive that ended with Rodgers’ 4-yard touchdown scramble. Cobb’s 23-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter came on third-and-10. He then had a 25-yarder on a post to convert a third-and-7 on the opening drive of the second half. Cobb’s first non-third-down catch of the game came in the third quarter, when he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass on first-and-goal to put the Packers ahead 27-10. It was Cobb’s first game with two touchdown catches since 2015. Cobb’s five-catch, 69-yard, two-touchdown game came a day after the Packers placed receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on injured reserve. The Packers need this kind of production from Cobb until Valdes-Scantling can come back from his hamstring injury and perhaps even after. — Rob Demovsky
Will Mason Crosby ever miss again? Perhaps only a breakdown in protection can do in Crosby. His two field goals on Sunday gave him 24 straight makes — a franchise record — dating to last season. But the Packers had better work on their operation. Crosby’s game winner from 51 yards against the 49ers was nearly blocked, and then on Sunday the Steelers actually did block one — and return it for a touchdown, only to have it called back because Joe Haden lined up offside. Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton said last week that the unit has an ideal operation time of between 1.25 seconds to 1.28 seconds. If it pulls it off in that time frame, Drayton said: “It is almost, I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but it’s pretty much impossible for a guy to get there off the edge. We will be strong inside and out, excuse me, inside [to] out, and let those guys … come off the edge.” That’s where the Steelers came from on their block that Minkah Fitzpatrick returned for a 75-yard touchdown that did not count. — Demovsky
Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, no change from last week. The Steelers, specifically QB Ben Roethlisberger, are a shadow of their former selves. The Packers did what they needed to do. If you thought they were a good team before Sunday, then they still are. If you thought they still had things to prove, then they still do.
Next game: at Bengals (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Steelers’ offense did what it hasn’t done in 13 weeks by scoring a touchdown on the opening drive. But that was the only thing different about a clunky and stagnant offense in Sunday’s loss. Even the third-quarter fourth-down play — a swing pass to Najee Harris — was a repeat of the same one that failed against the Bengals a week earlier. It lost a yard, and Ben Roethlisberger became the only quarterback in the past 20 seasons to lose yardage on multiple fourth-down completions in the same season, per ESPN Stats & Information research. Though he targeted the middle of the field more often and had a cleaner pocket, Roethlisberger still looked out of sync with his receivers, including JuJu Smith-Schuster, whom he missed twice on overthrows that could’ve turned into touchdowns. The Steelers weren’t pressing the panic button after the back-to-back losses in Weeks 2 and 3, but they should be thinking about it after yet another loss in which the club didn’t appear to make any effective changes. — Brooke Pryor
How can the defense get back on track? The Steelers pulled off the Week 1 upset in large part thanks to the defense figuring out how to confuse the Bills with a scheme that rarely blitzed. But since then, they’ve given up big plays to both the Raiders and Bengals in consecutive losses, and the pass rush hasn’t been as effective. Against the Packers, the Steelers got more pressure on Aaron Rodgers than they did on Joe Burrow a week earlier without T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, but Rodgers was a handful. And the rushing game led by AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones gashed the Steelers for 129 yards combined. — Pryor
Pryor’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 4.4. The Steelers aren’t showing significant week-to-week improvements, and they appear more comfortable repeating mistakes than learning from them.
Next game: vs. Broncos (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Lamar Jackson can lead the Ravens to victory without a running game. The mentality for opposing defenses had been: Stop Baltimore’s run game, and you stop the Ravens’ offense. But Jackson, who practiced only once this past week because of a back injury, showed he can carry the offense with his arm, continually stretching the field and finishing with 316 yards passing. It’s the second 300-yard passing game of Jackson’s career. The decisive strike from Jackson came in the second quarter, when he threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Taking bigger shots downfield has been a focus all offseason for Jackson, who led the NFL with 14.3 yards per completion entering the game. — Jamison Hensley
Will anyone step up to become the Ravens’ lead back? Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said entering this game that the Ravens are “just starting to get a feel for our [running] backs.” But the backfield remains in flux. After making starter Ty’Son Williams inactive, Latavius Murray managed 59 yards on 18 carries (a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry). Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman combined for 15 yards on five attempts. The Ravens have been trying to find someone to take over the featured role since top backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards suffered season-ending knee injuries within weeks of the start of the regular season. All the blame can’t be placed on the running backs. Baltimore is on its third left tackle just four games into the season. Andre Smith, a practice squad promotion, filled in for Alejandro Villanueva (knee), who had been filling in for Ronnie Stanley. — Hensley
Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, up from 7.8. The Ravens came into Denver and knocked out one of the five unbeaten teams in the NFL. A banged-up Baltimore team is 3-1 and tied atop the AFC North despite playing three of its first four games on the road.
Next game: vs. Colts (8:15 p.m. ET, Oct. 11)
What to know: Even before quarterback Teddy Bridgewater left the game with a concussion, the Broncos had slipped into some of the same habits that plagued them in 2020, when the offense struggled to move the ball and protect the quarterback. After Bridgewater exited and Drew Lock was behind center and the team was in catch-up mode, it felt like the struggles of last season. The Broncos had been efficient and productive on offense in their first three games. The Ravens were an upgrade in competition, but the Broncos made some odd choices. They abandoned the run game in the second quarter, after they had rushed for 73 yards in the first quarter, and were playing two backup guards who are far more proficient as run-blockers than in pass protection. Bridgewater was sacked twice and took multiple heavy hits, including the one that knocked him from the game. — Jeff Legwold
What now on offense if Bridgewater misses time? The decision to go with so many three-wide-receiver sets and open formations with two backup guards against the blitz-happy Ravens will need a second look, especially if Lock is going to have to play multiple weeks. The Broncos won three games with defensive and offensive efficiency. Bridgewater fueled that efficiency with his decision-making and patience, working his way into a game with short completions until the big play presented itself. The Broncos and Lock will have to show that kind of patience in the playcalling if Bridgewater misses more time. — Legwold
Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, down from 7.8. Confidence took a big hit with Bridgewater’s injury and the Broncos’ inability to get things kick-started once they were behind and Bridgewater was no longer in the game.
Next game: at Steelers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Seahawks are still alive. And if they can bottle up whatever got into them during Sunday’s second half, they will be quite well. Russell Wilson made a pair of vintage Wilson plays, and running back Alex Collins gave the offense a spark after it started with five straight three-and-outs, tying for its most under coach Pete Carroll. That plus a strong defensive performance helped the Seahawks avoid their first three-game losing streak of the Wilson era and a three-game deficit in the NFC West, which would have been a deep hole in a tough division. There is still so much we don’t know about the Seahawks on both sides of the ball: Will their offense find consistency over four quarters? Will cornerback be the defense’s Achilles’ heel against better quarterbacks? One thing we now know is how they will respond with their backs against the wall. — Brady Henderson
Can the defense hold up against better quarterbacks? Like, say, Matthew Stafford? Thursday night’s game against Stafford and the Rams will be a tougher test for the Seahawks’ defense than the one it got Sunday when it faced an inconsistent Jimmy Garoppolo and an inexperienced Trey Lance, who saw his most extended action after taking over in the second half. Cornerback Sidney Jones IV replaced Tre Flowers in the starting lineup, a move that felt inevitable after Flowers’ struggles over the past two games, but Jones allowed an early touchdown pass and was up and down. So that is still a suspect position for Seattle, especially with Stafford and the Rams’ strong receiver corps coming to town. — Henderson
Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.3, up from 6.7. A win like this can do wonders for a team’s confidence, and it’s always a benefit to be the home team on a short week.
Next game: vs. Rams (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: The 49ers are facing some serious issues in a loaded NFC West. Yes, it’s early, and there is still plenty of time for them to right the ship. But the question is how? The issues that plague the 49ers most are ones that many could have seen coming before the season: shallow depth at cornerback, an odd situation at quarterback and, of course, injuries, to name a few. Those aren’t exactly the kind of problems that can be easily fixed in the middle of the season. And San Francisco is already two games back and 0-1 against division opponents before even facing the two teams (Cardinals and Rams) that have looked the best in the West. — Nick Wagoner
What’s next at quarterback? Jimmy Garoppolo departed Sunday’s game at halftime with a right calf injury, forcing rookie Trey Lance to take over. As you might expect for a rookie who had played seven snaps before Sunday and took almost no reps with the starters in practice this week, it didn’t start off well. But Lance showed some of the playmaking ability the Niners coveted in him and finished 9-of-18 for 157 yards with two touchdowns and 41 yards on seven carries. What happens next will mostly depend on Garoppolo’s health, but if he doesn’t return in short order, some growing pains and a pared-down offense with Lance are likely in the offing. Regardless, it’s fair to wonder if either quarterback can do what’s needed to get this team back to the postseason given all the other issues. — Wagoner
Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.8, down from 6.5. This looked like a game the Niners had a chance to blow open in the first half, but they didn’t do it — and they now have a lot of questions to answer in a division that won’t get any easier.
Next game: at Cardinals (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Everyone has known about quarterback Kyler Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury, but Sunday afternoon’s win over the Rams was the Cardinals’ coming-out party as the best team in the NFL. Arizona ends the day as the only 4-0 team in the NFL and leads the vaunted NFC West. And it dismantled the Rams, a team that had been anointed as the chosen one this season. On Sunday, Murray had command of one of the league’s best offenses, which is now averaging 35 points per game; and the defense held the Rams’ offense, which was averaging 31.7 points, to 20 points. It was Arizona’s first win over the Rams in four years and was as big of a statement as there has been this season. — Josh Weinfuss
What’s going to stop the Cardinals at this point? Not much. Are they going to go undefeated? Probably not, but it’s more likely they get in their own way this season than being stopped by another team. Arizona needs to tighten its run defense, which gave up 68 yards in the first quarter on Sunday. It allowed just 53 in the final three quarters, but that number can be deceiving because the Rams were playing from behind. The Cardinals’ offense is diverse and efficient and quick and combustible. At this point, an overconfidence or getting too fancy in the playcalling are about the only things that could stop the Arizona offense. — Weinfuss
Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 9.2, up from 8.5. Stopping the Rams was a big-time win for the Cardinals. While there are things to work on, they’re minor, and the Cardinals have showed they’re a force.
Next game: vs. 49ers (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Rams were not prepared for quarterback Kyler Murray and the undefeated Cardinals. Coming off an emotional 34-24 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, the Rams suffered a major letdown in the division opener against a team they had defeated eight straight times. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles offense had a lackluster performance, while the defense allowed Murray to keep plays alive and complete several explosive throws downfield. — Lindsey Thiry
Can the Rams regroup to face another mobile quarterback on Thursday? Murray completed 24 of 32 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 39 yards on six carries. The Rams had few answers to slow down the mobile third-year quarterback, causing concern as they prepare to play the Seahawks and Russell Wilson on Thursday. Similar to Murray, Wilson can extend plays and complete jaw-dropping downfield passes while on the run. — Thiry
Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, down from 9. Bottom line, the Rams remain a very talented group when they put it all together. The key is actually putting it together. Despite facing a red-hot Cardinals team, the Rams did not show up to SoFi Stadium prepared Sunday and were not ready to compete.
Next game: at Seahawks (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: Rookie QB Zach Wilson put on a show in the fourth quarter, displaying the arm talent and improvisational skills that prompted the Jets to fall in love with him. He threw for two touchdowns, including a 53-yarder to Corey Davis — an off-script play in which he motioned to Davis to go deep. It was straight out of the school yard. He led the Jets’ OT drive that resulted in the game-winning field goal, but it wasn’t a flawless performance. He missed two gimme throws in clutch situations that nearly cost them the game. Still, this was the performance the Jets were long anticipating. — Rich Cimini
Is the pass rush for real? The Jets recorded seven sacks, including two by DT Quinnen Williams. The front four are the strength of the team, but some wondered whether it would be a diminished strength because of DE Carl Lawson‘s season-ending injury. The coaches have adjusted, using more blitz packages than expected. They designed clever third-down pressures and rattled QB Ryan Tannehill, who didn’t have WRs Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. Don’t buy stock on the Jets’ pass rush just yet — seven sacks is an aberration — but it’s an improving D-line. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, up from 2. They were outplayed by the Titans for much of the game, but Robert Saleh’s program needed a win in the worst way.
Next game: vs. Falcons (9:30 a.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The pass protection and pass-rush recognition are terrible. The Titans allowed six or more sacks for the second time in four games. The Jets’ seven sacks were the most they’ve had since Week 11 of the 2019 season. Five of the sacks came on third downs, killing multiple drives. The Jets got pressure with stunts up front and blitzes that confused the Titans’ offensive line. Ryan Tannehill didn’t help by holding on to the ball too long on a couple of the sacks. — Turron Davenport
Why can’t the Titans consistently score touchdowns in the red zone? Entering this season, Tennessee’s offense scored touchdowns on 53% of its red zone visits. The Titans got into the red zone five times Sunday and scored a touchdown once. Two of the seven sacks the team allowed came in the red zone, both times coming on third down. The Titans still have the threat of Derrick Henry running the ball inside the 20-yard line but need to also take advantage of Tannehill’s ability to run the ball with more boot action. The Titans also need to use more bunch sets to get quick separation so Tannehill can get the ball to his receivers quickly before the pass rush gets home. That said, the Jets’ defense was tied with the Saints and Broncos as the best in the NFL in preventing red zone touchdowns, entering this week allowing only 33%. It gets much easier for Tennessee next week against a Jaguars defense that has allowed touchdowns on 62% of opponents’ red zone visits. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 6.5. The Titans have a way of playing down to the level of their competition, and that’s exactly what they did this week against the hapless Jets. These are the games that a contender doesn’t lose or even allow to be this close.
Next game: at Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Ron Rivera has always considered this a resilient team, and it showed it again Sunday. Despite a number of injuries, two missed extra-point attempts and another bad outing by the defense, Washington found a way to win. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke defines resilient. He showed poise and confidence on two late touchdown drives to lead the win. It’s what he used to do while growing up 45 minutes from Atlanta as a high school star. The game-winning play to J.D. McKissic sums him up — Heinicke extended the play by rolling left, stayed poised and hit McKissic on the other side for a 30-yard catch-and-run score. — John Keim
What’s wrong with the defense? That’s a real tough one to answer, because Washington doesn’t have bad personnel. It has coaches who have been part of good teams. They are just all underachieving in a big way. Washington allowed the NFL’s 28th-ranked offense to score 30 points, gain 378 yards and convert 10 of 16 third downs. The players miss tackles; they give up big plays because of botched coverages, etc. Washington got the win, but that was not a get-right outing by the defense. You can’t just blame the players, either. A start this bad is on the coaches and the players. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4. Until the defense gets right, Washington will struggle against most offenses. But the offense will make things interesting.
Next game: vs. Saints (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Taylor Heinicke passes to J.D. McKissic, who then runs toward the end zone and dives across the goal line to put Washington up late.
What to know: The Falcons, many times, came close to locking up Sunday’s game against Washington. They led by eight (30-22) in the fourth quarter. Then what appeared to be conservative playcalling on offense (runs with Mike Davis, who averaged 1.1 yards per carry) and a defense that couldn’t contain quarterback Taylor Heinicke’s ability to extend plays with his legs turned what looked like a massive win for Atlanta into a crushing loss. Luckily, perhaps, for Atlanta, the next three weeks it faces the Jets, has a bye week and then goes to Miami. — Michael Rothstein
Is Cordarrelle Patterson the most reliable option on the Falcons’ offense? In a word, yes. Patterson had a monster game against Washington, becoming the first running back in franchise history with three touchdown catches in a game. He has been the one player who Atlanta has been able to count on every week for offensive production. For a player who has bounced between teams for much of his NFL career, he has found a clear role and home with the Falcons. Sunday showed the best of what he can become, with six carries for 34 yards and five catches (on six targets) for 82 yards and those three scores. While Calvin Ridley (11 targets) and Kyle Pitts (nine targets) were looked to more Sunday, none had the day Patterson did. Pitts struggled getting open and Ridley had multiple drops. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.7, down from 5. The Falcons, at points, looked like a good, complementary football team, but the fourth-quarter failings lead to some questions about this team’s ability to play with a lead.
Next game: vs. Jets (9:30 a.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Giants saved their season from disaster with the overtime victory. Quarterback Daniel Jones put the Giants on his shoulders and rallied them from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit, getting help from Saquon Barkley. It took a big performance from Jones — who finished with 402 yards passing — and so many others in the organization to get them in the win column. — Jordan Raanan
Did the offense finally figure it out? Sure looks like it. The Giants moved the ball against a good Saints defense the entire afternoon and rallied in the fourth quarter. They finished with 485 total yards. Barkley made some big plays, including a 54-yard touchdown reception and the winning 6-yard touchdown run in overtime. Maybe most encouraging was rookie first-round pick Kadarius Toney becoming a big part of the offense. He had six catches for 78 yards. It also helped having a healthier Kenny Golladay, who had six catches for 116 yards. Things are looking up for the Giants’ offense heading into next week in Dallas. — Raanan
Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.4, up from 1.2. Don’t write the season off just yet. The Giants got a quality road win and should realistically have two or three wins already this season.
Next game: at Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: An unforgivable loss, considering the Saints were up 21-10 with eight minutes left. The defense wore down in the fourth quarter and overtime after getting off to such a good start this season. But the offense was also underwhelming — which has turned into a more concerning season-long trend while New Orleans has relied so much on Alvin Kamara and the run game. A handful of big plays from Jameis Winston and the passing game ultimately wasn’t enough this time. — Mike Triplett
Will we see more passing offense once WR Michael Thomas comes back? It would be impossible not to. New Orleans ranked 31st in the NFL with just 113.7 passing yards per game heading into Sunday, when Winston threw for a season-high 226 yards (including a 58-yard pass). Obviously, the Saints would prefer to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage more than relying on Winston to win games. But they might need to push the envelope. And not only will Thomas be eligible to return from the physically unable to perform list after the Saints’ Week 6 bye, but standout offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Erik McCoy and WR Tre’Quan Smith will also be back eventually. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.8, down from 7.5. Back to where we were after an ugly Week 2 loss. The Saints (2-2) will eventually be much better off, since they were missing a staggering eight projected Week 1 starters. But you can’t afford to let golden opportunities like this one slip away in the NFL.
Next game: at Washington (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Cowboys’ 36-28 win against Carolina included a vintage Ezekiel Elliott performance (more than 100 yards vs. the top-ranked run defense), a four-touchdown game from Dak Prescott (the fifth of his career) and what is becoming a normal performance for Trevon Diggs. Diggs recorded two more interceptions, giving him five in the first four games, tying the team record held by Ring of Honor linebacker Chuck Howley, who had five interceptions in the Cowboys’ first four games in 1968. The last player in the NFL to have five picks in the first four games was New Orleans’ Darren Sharper in 2009. Prescott said he thinks Diggs is the NFL’s best.
“For sure. I mean, turn on the tape, watch what he’s doing. Watch the guys that he’s following week in, week out, the best player,” Prescott said of Diggs. The cornerback himself isn’t ready to say that. “I feel like I still got work to do. I haven’t reached what I wanted to reach and I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to accomplish,” Diggs said.
The Cowboys turned the two takeaways into 10 points to pull away from the Panthers in the second half for a win that should make a lot more people take notice. — Todd Archer
Is it time to take the Cowboys seriously in the NFC? Some might have thought it was cute that the Cowboys pushed the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the opener, but maybe that needs to be looked at differently. They built a big lead on the previously undefeated Panthers in the second half and held on for the win. And they’re doing this without some key performers, such as Michael Gallup, DeMarcus Lawrence, La’el Collins, Neville Gallimore and Keanu Neal. All of them will be back at some point, so there is hope they can continue to get better. — Archer
Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.9, up from 8.4. They have convincingly won their past two games in a six-day span, routing Philadelphia and holding off Carolina — and those teams came in with defenses that were ranked fourth and second in points allowed per game.
Next game: vs. Giants (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is on his game as he passes for four touchdowns vs. the Panthers on Sunday.
What to know: Reality check. The Panthers aren’t ready to be among the NFL’s elite. Their 3-0 start indeed was a product, in part, of a weak schedule. While showing promise in the first half with a 14-13 lead, the offense crumbled under the blitz, and the defense, without two secondary starters, showed it doesn’t have the depth to be a legit No. 1 unit. The 36-28 loss is a fair estimate of where this team is against good teams. — David Newton
Was quarterback Sam Darnold exposed in the second half? Darnold looked brilliant in the first half, completing 12 of 16 pass attempts for 114 yards and rushing four times for 28 yards and two touchdowns. But he was blitzed on only two of 20 dropbacks. When the Cowboys came with the heat in the second half, Darnold looked more like the quarterback who struggled with mistakes with the Jets. On his first 10 dropbacks, he was blitzed four times and went 1-of-3 with an interception and a sack. He had two interceptions in the third quarter that allowed this game to get out of reach. — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 6.9. The Panthers have enough talent to keep pace with their next four opponents (Eagles, Vikings, Giants, Falcons), but the defense proved to be vulnerable against an elite quarterback after beating up on rookies in two of the first three games.
Next game: vs. Eagles (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Dawson Knox is emerging into the tight end the Bills needed him to be. With two touchdown catches against the Texans, Knox now has four on the season — a career high — four games into the year. He is tied for the second-most receiving touchdowns in the NFL. The Bills came into the year needing the tight end position to have more of a presence, and bringing in someone from the outside, like Eagles tight Zach Ertz, was a popular discussion point. Instead, Knox’s playing time has risen this season, and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity. He is a popular target for Josh Allen, especially in the red zone, and had five receptions for 37 yards on eight targets against the Texans. The Bills already had a surplus of offensive talent. Getting Knox in the mix is only a plus for this group. — Alaina Getzenberg
Is the Bills’ success on defense because they are legit or because of whom they have played? The Bills are now plus-90 in point differential this season, the second-best point differential through four games in franchise history (plus-108 in 1992). Much of that is thanks to two shutout performances, the other being against the Dolphins in Week 2. The Bills are the second team since the NFL merger with two shutout wins by at least 30 points in their first four games (1991 Washington is the other). Both Miami and Houston, however, have struggling offenses that have yet to find much success this season playing with backup quarterbacks. Despite that, this Bills’ defense should get a share of the credit. Multiple shutouts in the NFL is not an easy task, no matter the opponent. Buffalo, which was without multiple defensive starters, also lost starting linebacker Matt Milano (hamstring), who left in the second quarter. The defense is creating turnovers — including five against Houston — and held the Texans’ offense to fewer than 100 yards. The Bills have not allowed an opponent to gain 300 yards in a game this year, the only team in the NFL to do so. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.7, no change from 7.7. The Bills beat the Texans handily, as they were supposed to, but this number stays put thanks to Buffalo’s offense scoring touchdowns in only three of seven red zone trips, including none on the first four. That issue needs to be corrected going into a big matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs next week.
Next game: at Chiefs (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Texans might have the worst offense in the NFL without quarterback Tyrod Taylor. This was only Davis Mills’ second start in his rookie year, but Houston hasn’t run the ball well, either. Although the Bills’ defense has been solid this season — it also shut out the Dolphins in Week 2 — the Texans’ offense really struggled. Houston had minus-23 net passing yards in the first half, which was the fewest by any team in a first half since the Eagles on Nov. 21, 1999, against the Colts (minus-27) and the fewest in either half in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. — Sarah Barshop
The only place they can go from here is up, right? The Texans have to hope this is rock bottom for the season, especially for the offense. Taylor, who is on injured reserve with a left hamstring injury, will miss at least one more game. If there is good news for Houston, according to FPI, the Texans have the 13th-easiest remaining strength of schedule this season. — Barshop
Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.5, down from 2. This number continues to go down for the Texans since their victory in the opener. An easier schedule the rest of the way will help, but it’s hard to be confident about this team with Mills under center.
Next game: vs. Patriots (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: After last week’s disaster in Cleveland, the Bears’ offense roared (for them, anyway) back to life. Yes, it was against the Lions. And yes, the Lions are bad. But progress is progress. The most encouraging aspect of Sunday’s 24-14 victory was the Bears’ devotion to the running game, with David Montgomery scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns before leaving the game with a left knee injury. For the most part, rookie quarterback Justin Fields looked good, and his receivers made plays. The Bears’ offense was light-years better than it was in Week 3. — Jeff Dickerson
Are the Bears really going back to Andy Dalton? Coach Matt Nagy has said over and over that Dalton remains the Bears’ starter when healthy. But why ruin Fields’ momentum? The rookie made several beautiful throws on Sunday, including deep balls to speedster Darnell Mooney, who finished with five catches for 125 yards. Fields played with nice tempo and appeared in command for a good chunk of the afternoon, even though he attempted just 18 passes. So why switch back to Dalton? Dalton had his chance and got hurt. That’s life in the NFL. — Dickerson
Dickerson’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 3.5. The Bears can’t play the Lions every week.
Next game: at Raiders (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Justin Fields and Darnell Mooney connect on several impressive plays against the Lions.
What to know: The Lions’ red zone offense must improve. Thanks in part to two costly fumbles by QB Jared Goff and center Frank Ragnow, Detroit became the first team in at least the past 40 seasons to reach the red zone in each of their first three possessions and fail to score any points, per Elias Sports Bureau research. Then, following another failed attempt in the fourth quarter, their four empty red zone drives tied them for the most by any team in a game since 2000. If the team can’t limit mistakes in scoring situations, it’ll find it difficult to get that elusive first win. — Eric Woodyard
When will the Lions win a game? The schedule doesn’t let up for the 0-4 Lions. They visit the Minnesota Vikings next week, then host the Cincinnati Bengals at home before traveling to face former Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and the red-hot Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 24. So it doesn’t get much easier with this brutal schedule. Head coach Dan Campbell categorized the schedule to start the season as being “the hand we’re dealt,” adding that the tough early slate will make the team stronger. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, down from 5. Sunday’s loss in Chicago was bad from the start. Not only were the Lions not able to capitalize on red zone opportunities, they added injuries to Ragnow (toe) and outside linebacker Romeo Okwara (foot), which isn’t a good mix for a team in the midst of a full rebuild.
Next game: at Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Browns’ defense is quickly proving it might be among the league’s elite. Cleveland delivered another dominant defensive effort in Minnesota, stifling the Vikings and QB Kirk Cousins, who came into the day ranked second in the league in Total QBR. After surrendering a touchdown on Minnesota’s opening drive, the Browns allowed only 180 yards the rest of the game — and no points. On the heels of an offseason overhaul, this Browns’ defense appears to be for real. — Jake Trotter
Can the Browns get QB Baker Mayfield back on track? Despite the win, Mayfield might have played his worst game since Week 6 of last year. He didn’t commit the crucial mistake, but had it not been for a herculean effort from the defense, Cleveland wouldn’t have been able to overcome such an inefficient passing performance. Getting Mayfield on track again will be paramount for coach Kevin Stefanski moving forward. — Trotter
Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.1, up from 7.4. The Browns already boasted one of the league’s top rushing attacks — now they seemingly own one of the top defenses to complement it.
Next game: at Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Coach Mike Zimmer’s blueprint for success is alive and well in Cleveland and not even close to reality in Minnesota. Kevin Stefanski utilized Zimmer’s dream game plan against him by calling more runs than passes and dominating time of possession. Stefanski didn’t open up the playbook against his former team, but he didn’t have to once he found a way to consistently gash the Vikings on the ground, with his Browns (3-1) running for 184 yards. Cleveland gave the Vikings (1-3) a ton of chances, but Minnesota didn’t get close to tying the game after a bizarre last drive. — Courtney Cronin
What’s wrong with the Vikings’ run defense? Minnesota spent the entire offseason rebuilding its run defense, but the results have not played out in the Vikings’ favor. Cleveland entered Week 4 averaging 5.1 yards per rush and put up 184 yards rushing at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings had to finish the game without DT Michael Pierce, who aggravated an elbow injury he has been dealing with the past few days, but the nose tackle struggled to contain runs up the middle even when he was on the field. The Browns repeatedly pounded the rock with Nick Chubb (21 carries, 100 yards) and Kareem Hunt (14-69, TD), which wore Minnesota’s defense down up front and continues to be one of the main reasons the Vikings have struggled defensively this season. — Cronin
Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, down from 6.3. The winless Lions let the Bears rush for 188 yards. Minnesota has Detroit at home and another week to get Dalvin Cook (who looked like he might have reinjured an ankle in the third quarter) up to speed — or hand the reins to Alexander Mattison again — so the Vikings can do the same.
Next game: vs. Lions (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Colts needed this one. They were in desperation mode because there was no way they could fall to 0-4 on the season, especially with another road game at Baltimore awaiting them in Week 5. The Colts didn’t make it easy on themselves, but they got their first win of the season over the Miami Dolphins. Dealing with myriad injuries entering the game, the Colts went back to their old mantra of “Run the damn ball” to get the victory. Second-year running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for a season-high 103 yards, and the Colts rushed for 139 yards as a team. The 33 rushing attempts were a season high for the Colts. The solid running game took some pressure off Carson Wentz‘s right arm — and right ankle — and he was 24-of-32 for 228 yards and two touchdowns. A key for Wentz was that he didn’t hold the ball too long, and he had no problem throwing underneath to avoid taking any unnecessary hits. — Mike Wells
Can the defense have the same kind of success against Baltimore in Week 5, given that Lamar Jackson is a substantial upgrade over Jacoby Brissett? The Colts held the Dolphins to a total of 203 yards (including minus-7 yards in the second quarter) on offense. But let’s be real — their offense isn’t that good, especially with Brissett at quarterback. A better indicator of whether the Colts are turning the corner defensively will come when they face Jackson and the Ravens on Monday Night Football. Jackson is a threat with his arm and his feet, as he leads Baltimore in passing and rushing this season. The Ravens went into Sunday ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per game (424.7). — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.6, no change from 4.6. The Colts should be happy about getting their first victory, but it’s too soon to say they’ve turned the corner on their season. Beat the Ravens in Week 5, and then it’ll be time to say that the Colts are getting their season back on track.
Next game: at Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET, Oct. 11)
Carson Wentz finds Mo Alie-Cox in the end zone twice as the Colts get their first win of the season.
What to know: The glass covering the fire extinguisher has been broken — this offense is in trouble. Not to sound like a broken record, but the Colts entered Week 4 allowing the sixth-most yards per play (6.29) in the NFL, yet they held the Dolphins to just 3 yards per play Sunday. Once again, Miami failed to push the ball down the field, seemingly settling for short and intermediate passes; quarterback Jacoby Brissett attempted just one pass longer than 20 yards, and Miami’s offense didn’t crack 100 yards until midway through the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ defense fixed its third-down efficiency but allowed its second straight 100-yard rusher. Ultimately, it’s still just Week 4, but Miami blew it in a get-right game against a hobbled Colts team. Don’t hit the panic button until Tua Tagovailoa returns, but you can definitely have a hand hovering over it. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Speaking of Tagovailoa — how much better can he make this Dolphins offense? Tagovailoa will reportedly make his return from injured reserve when the Dolphins play the Jaguars in Week 6, giving him a winnable matchup after missing three games with fractured ribs. But he could realistically be leading a team that is 1-4 by that time; his development as a downfield passer won’t be able to wait. He will have to display an ability to stretch a defense or teams will continue to keep Miami’s offense in front of them as they’ve done with Brissett. With this Dolphins defense, the team can compete, but its offense has to carry its weight immediately. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 4.5. Anything can happen in the NFL, but I have no reason to believe the Dolphins will beat the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers after being blown out by the previously winless Colts.
Next game: at Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The offense has to continue to be as impressive as it was against the Eagles on Sunday, when it scored a touchdown on six of its first seven possessions. That may seem like an unfair burden to place on Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the offense, but it’s there because of the Chiefs’ defense, which is giving up scoring drives of its own at an alarming rate. — Adam Teicher
Can the Chiefs reasonably expect significant improvement on defense? The Chiefs are deep enough into the season that we know what they are: not good on defense. They do have a few things to look forward to, such as the returns of end Frank Clark and linebacker Willie Gay following injuries. But those players won’t fix all that ails the defense. — Teicher
Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.7, up from 6. It’s impossible to think of the Chiefs as what they’ve been in recent years with the defense they have.
Next game: vs. Bills (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Eagles are an undisciplined team, and it is destroying their chances for success. They had three touchdowns taken off the board because of penalties (though the second, a pass interference call on receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, was highly questionable), and extended a pair of Chiefs scoring drives with infractions. That was the difference between what would have been a spirit-lifting win and a deflating loss that dropped Philadelphia to 1-3 on the season. Playing intelligent football is a core principle of coach Nick Sirianni’s, and yet the Eagles have set a franchise record for penalties through four games with 44. That does not reflect well. The schedule has little give, with the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Las Vegas Raiders up next. To have any chance, the Eagles have to quit beating themselves. — Tim McManus
What happened to the defense? The Eagles were near the top in most defensive categories through the first two games, including opponent points per game (11.5 average). The past two weeks, they were gashed for 83 points and more than 850 yards. Granted, it was against a pair of potent offenses in the Chiefs and Cowboys, but it has been a rapid fall from grace. The defense hasn’t played well since defensive end Brandon Graham was lost for the season with an Achilles rupture in the second quarter against the 49ers in Week 2. — McManus
McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.7, down from 4.8. The offense showed some promise Sunday — rookie DeVonta Smith went over 100 yards for the first time in his career, and the Eagles moved the ball despite having just one of their original starting offensive linemen — but their schedule is brutal and they’re just not a very smart football team right now.
Next game: at Panthers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Bengals have put themselves in position to be a playoff contender this season. Thursday’s win over Jacksonville gave the Bengals three wins in their first four games, which was imperative, given how tough the schedule will be later in the season. If Cincinnati wants to end a playoff drought that dates back to 2015, it needs to stockpile wins against bad teams like the Jaguars. Cincinnati barely did that, thanks to a 35-yard field goal by rookie Evan McPherson as time expired. — Ben Baby
Are the Bengals consistent enough to be a playoff team? I’m not so sure. The lackluster start was almost enough to put the Bengals away early. If Cincinnati doesn’t get a fourth-and-goal stop less than 3 feet from their own end zone, the Jaguars might have gone up 21-0 and had enough of a cushion to pull off the upset. Cincinnati had a similarly flat outing in Week 2 against Chicago in a game that will end up being a pretty bad loss. Cincinnati must be more consistent, especially against better teams, if it wants to make the playoffs. — Baby
Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 6.8. The Bengals do enough things well — and perhaps more importantly, have Joe Burrow at QB — to be a good team in ’21.
Next game: vs. Packers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The players have been saying it for four weeks, but they really are close to getting a victory. They nearly upset the Bengals in a road game on a short week with a rookie QB and rookie head coach. There aren’t a lot of playmakers on offense other than RB James Robinson and WR Marvin Jones Jr., but when they play turnover-free ball and get the ground game going, they’re going to have chances to win some games soon. — Mike DiRocco
What do the Jaguars do at receiver with DJ Chark Jr. (ankle) sidelined? Tavon Austin got a lot of work after Chark went out on the game’s third play, but expect kick returner Jamal Agnew (who had a 27-yard catch) and Tyron Johnson to get more work, as well. Johnson hasn’t done much since the Jaguars claimed him off waivers (one catch for 6 yards), but he does have deep speed. The three practice squad receivers — Jeff Cotton, Tim Jones and Josh Hammond — might get a chance too, but the Jaguars really don’t have anyone who can really replace Chark. He may not have been off to a very good start, but QB Trevor Lawrence trusted him and the Jaguars were counting on him to be a deep threat. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, up from 2.5. Lawrence played his first turnover-free game, Robinson ran for 78 yards and two TDs, and the offense had three TD drives of at least 67 yards, but the defense continues to struggle against the pass (Joe Burrow threw for 348 yards) and has forced just one turnover all season.
Next game: vs. Titans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)